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Work-in-Progress Workshop in Hong Kong Studies 2024 #5

Workshop 2024 #5

Date & Time: April 19, 2024, 11:00 AM -12:30 PM HKT

Format: Virtually via Zoom

Discussant: Prof. Edmund Cheng, Professor, City University of Hong Kong

Title: Tracing Karayuki-San in Hong Kong, 1870s-1920s

Presenter: Bernice Chau, University of Toronto

Project type: Seminar paper


This paper explores the historical presence of Karayuki-san in early colonial Hong Kong. Karayuki-san were Japanese women descended from lower class families and being trafficked to work as sex workers, courtesans and indentured servants across Asia-Pacific regions. Existing research on Karayuki-san has touched upon its presence through interdisciplinary approaches such as microsociology, ethnohistory, economic history (Warren, 2003; Shimizu 1997). Scholars have well-acknowledged Hong Kong’s role as a distribution center for sex trade between Japan and Southeast Asia, but nonetheless research on Karayuki-san’s actual presence in Hong Kong and its related primary source findings remains scarce.

This project traces the historical presence of Karayuki-san in Hong Kong by studying oral and visual representations of streets of red-light districts. By using theoretical frameworks such as micro-ethnohistory and Peter Burke’s method of “images as testimony,” I examine various Hong Kong Chinese sources to reconstruct lived experiences of Japanese sex workers and the wider context of multicultural sex trades in Hong Kong. More specifically, through images, census data, oral testimonials and street maps of red-light districts, this paper is interested in exploring the socio-cultural interactions between Karayuki-san and the early Hong Kong environment with both academic and nonacademic sources. To think beyond, this paper also examines the mapping of multifaceted cultures and ethnicities in the development of colonial modernity in Hong Kong. I explore how transnational histories of gender, sexuality, and womanhood are informed and constructed through census, oral, photographic and cartographic evidence.

Karayuki-San, Hong Kong, early Hong Kong, sex trade, Images as History

Title: Towards a Deconstructive Archaeology: Atlas and the Excavation of Hong Kong

Presenter: Quentin Tan, University of California Los Angeles

Project type: Journal article


This paper explores the ways in which Dung Kai-cheung’s novel Atlas opens up new forms of understanding of Hong Kong beyond the hegemonic designs of Western knowledge through deconstruction and imaginative explorations of the past. Moreover, this paper also seeks to go beyond existing literature on the work by analyzing the material and epistemological conditions of postcoloniality and postmodernity upon which the critical enterprise of the novel is predicated. I argue that the decolonial potentiality of Atlas lies in its multi-directional engagement with the interlocking moments of postcoloniality and postmodernity and the negotiation of the epistemological insights they entail, rather than an isolated consideration of one or the other. Simply put, Atlas offers us a potent and exuberant example of the project of epistemological emancipation that provides great instructive value for the new imaginings of not only Hong Kong or East Asia but also the world writ large. Against the dehistoricizing temptations of global capitalism and nativism, Atlas derives its decolonial force from its excavation of the palimpsest of Hong Kong through a dual interplay of historical deconstruction and reconstruction that forgoes the telos of absolute knowledge for the promise of liberation. 

Decolonization, History, Deconstruction, Critical Cartography, World Literature

Bernice Chau, University of Toronto & Quentin Tan, University of California Los Angeles
Date & Time
April 19, 2024, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM HKT